#SpinAlert: Light Rail for the Valley Instead of a UBC Subway

-- Download #SpinAlert: Light Rail for the Valley Instead of a UBC Subway as PDF --

Who Framed Roger Rabbit reminded us all of the Great American Streetcar Scandal: cars over mass transit. Now, in the lower mainland we have the UBC tunnel over light rail to the valley.

This week, we start with a transportation spin alert.

Last week, Allen Garr wrote an interesting piece about the seemingly obvious idea of running a Skytrain subway to UBC [see below]. One possibly contentious issue would be whether it would be bored or made with the disastrous cut-and-cover debacle that broke Cambie Street, and its socio-economic fabric, for so long.

But I think there is a larger issue here. With the Evergreen Line finally on-stream after being hijacked by the Canada Line to help secure the Olympic bid, we should be thinking about extending Skytrain or preferably, light rail into the valley.

I haven’t done the math, but I’m thinking that we could improve the lower mainland’s carbon footprint more by getting those suburbs onto mass transit since UBC is already served by a fleet of buses that consider UBC to be their hub.

I can see both Langleys, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Surrey, Delta, New Westminster, Coquitlam and Burnaby expressing serious joy with fewer cars from the valley pouring into the city every day.

This is an inspiration for what rail in the valley could look like.
This is an inspiration for what rail in the valley could look like.

So while I agree with Allen Garr that I don’t think there will be much Vancouver-based opposition to a UBC subway, Vision Vancouver is running this campaign of support to shore up its argument at Translink and Metro Vancouver to again neglect critical suburban transit development in favour of another upgrade in Vancouver’s transit infrastructure.

I suspect there will be only incremental carbon footprint improvements of a UBC subway, compared to much larger improvements by sending light rail east from the Skytrain line. It would also be far cheaper, freeing up more funds to run more buses on the Port Mann white elephant and more 99s, 25s, 41s and 49s to UBC.

Don’t expect any political opposition to UBC subway

By Allen Garr, Columnist March 14, 2013

If you think you can find any significant political support in your effort to stop a subway being built along the Broadway Corridor, you had better think again.

via Don’t expect any political opposition to UBC subway.

The following two tabs change content below.

Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

Latest posts by Stephen Elliott-Buckley (see all)

17 thoughts on “#SpinAlert: Light Rail for the Valley Instead of a UBC Subway”

  1. A light rail-type line east on the interurban may create new transit service across a large spectrum, but will not have the large benefits that you suggest – esp. with Rail for the Valley’s proposed operating frequencies of just 20 minutes peak. An interurban LRT line will create a new option to ride across the region by rail, but what it won’t do is support a lot of commutes to work.

    In particular, it’s going to miss many urban centres and urban commute patterns in Surrey where we in particular should be introducing transit.

    Building any sort of rapid transit on the interurban would be sort of like having built the Canada Line on Arbutus: you would have created some sort of link between Richmond and Vancouver, but you’re going to miss out on everything in between (i.e. Yaletown, Central Broadway, Oakridge Mall) and these are places riders also want to go to.

    1. thanks, daryl, so skytrain is the better transit system for surrey?

      even aside from the skytrain vs. light rail debate, i’m still going with there being more value in mass transit infrastructure improvements needed for surrey and the valley before a ubc subway.

      1. SkyTrain on all proposed rapid transit corridors in Surrey is the ONLY option that will meet a transit modal shift objective and create a much-needed reversal to the region’s fastest auto use growth rate. It is the option that Surrey must pursue, regardless of concerns about cost or visual.

        We had a look at the final proposed options by TransLink in their Surrey Rapid Transit Analysis and found that none of the options were set to meet the modal shift objectives set before the study had begun (including a full LRT network on 104th/Fraser/KGB, or a SkyTrain extension to Langley + BRT on 104th/KGB). You can find more info in our new presentation, which we’re taking to the City of Surrey next month: http://skytrainforsurrey.org/2013/03/15/presentation-rapid-transit-and-surreys-needs/

        Daryl at Better Surrey Rapid Transit

          1. That’s going to be a tough one, and I think that people should be steered away from looking at the cost only and should also be taking a look at what we really build rapid transit for, and that’s benefits. If more investment will translate into more benefits then it can be more reasonable. The Canada Line has already attracted $8 billion in economic development (not including Marine Gateway and Vancouver-side developments, so this number could be over $10 billion) within 4 years. There should also be a look at the penalties of not investing. Cost that is not put into more transit improvement will still cost citizens (more perhaps) in congestion, lost economic potential, lost commute/job opportunities, etc.

            There may be ways to address cost concerns, as I pointed out in the last segment… i.e. shorter trains and platforms. It’s also noteworthy that the cost estimates account for inflation projections from 2010 to a (theoretical) 2019 year of opening – so are apparently in 2019 dollars rather than 2010 dollars. I actually suspected that most of the costs were over-estimated at first, but then I saw that and it made sense. The cost to us in today’s dollars is less than what we’re told.

  2. I may be biased, as I work out in the UEL, but the bus lines to UBC are at capacity. Recent statistics show that the 99 B-Line is the busiest bus line in North America. (That being said, I haven’t looked at the provenance of those statistics.)

    The massive fleet of buses that come out here add quite a bit to backlog on the roads. I do think that a tram or a skytrain extension to UBC would be a good idea.

    That being said, the Valley definitely needs some rapid transit.

  3. Mind you, if the issue is “capacity” then something else to keep in mind is the fact that the UBC/West End region is, in a demographic, sense “at capacity.” Nobody is going to rip up Point Grey at turn the area into condos, so a Skytrain line for that area is not a priority–the population will stay relatively the same. If anything, LRT makes more sense for UBC, and Skytrain for the Valley as the later is still undergoing a major population boom.

  4. First off, I am sorry you used a computer rendition of an old LA P.E. streetcar and Roger Rabbit to lead this story; modern trams are rather sleek looking and can hold over 250 passengers.

    The problems with subways are many, but first must be the costs associated with subways as they are very expensive to build and to maintain. This translates into higher fares and future funding problems – sounds familiar with TransLink, doesn’t it.

    Because of this huge cost, subways are only planned for when traffic flows on a transit route exceed 20,000 persons per hour per direction. Lesser traffic flows mean higher subsidies and even higher fares and more future financial problems.

    By looking at TransLink’s bus schedule for Broadway, ones see peak hour traffic flows less than 5,000 pphpd. This is a very weak number for a subway and means that the Broadway subway will be highly subsidized, which translates into high fares and even higher taxes.

    Light rail is defined as a transit mode that can affordably deal with traffic flows between 2,000 and 20,000 pphpd, thus bridging the gap that can be carried by buses and that what can be economically dealt with using a metro.

    Modern LRT, thus replaces buses, giving a superior travel options to transit customers, while at the same time cutting operational cost by about half because one tram (1 tram driver) is as efficient as six buses (6 bus drivers).

    Subways by their very nature, need shadow bus services to bring transit customers to its widely spaced stations, thus drive up transit costs.
    there is no economy operating a subway.

    The difference between a streetcar and LRT is the quality of rights-of-way. A streetcar/tram operates mainly on-street in mixed traffic, which gives a somewhat slower service because the tram is impeded by surface traffic, still a streetcar is about 10% more efficient than a bus.

    Light rail is a streetcar which operates on a reserved rights-of-way (a RoW for the exclusive use of the tram) with priority signalling at intersections. With station of stops spaced every 500 to 600 metres, give optimum station/stop spacing as to attract the most customers with a service quality on par with a metro or subway. It is the concept of The reserved – RoW (which can be as simple as a HOV lane with rails or as complex as a linear park) that ha made modern LRT such a powerful tool in helping to solve our regional transit problems.

    Modern LRT has made SkyTrain obsolete and has relegated the mini-metro as a niche transit mode. What has been forgotten in the Broadway subway debate is that SkyTrain was first conceived to mitigate the extremely high cost of subway construction.

    Some unpleasant facts for the Skytrain/subway lobby.

    1 – Subways do not attract customers as widely spaced stations and hard to get to stations make subways rather user unfriendly.
    2 – Subways require very expensive mid-life refurbishment and maintenance, so expensive is this, it takes monies away from other transit services.
    3 – To date no Skytrain mini-metro has matched the capacity of LRT.
    4 – Subways tend to give longer overall travel times, as transit customers generally have to make time consuming transfers from bus to metro and then there is the added time going down to subterranean stations.

    The Rail for the Valley plan is to use a light rail variant called TramTrain and run it from Vancouver to Chilliwack as the old BCE interurban service once did.


    The cost for the full build, 135 km Vancouver/Richmond to Chilliwack TramTrain is around $1 billion, or about one quarter the cost of a 13 km bored subway tunnel.

    Put another way, for the cost of a Broadway subway, we could build:
    1 – A BCIT to UBC/Stanley Park LRT
    2 – A Whiterock to Surrey Centre LRT
    3 – A Vancouver to Chilliwack TramTrain service (which would not only service Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack, but enable Vancouver bound customers from White Rock a direct service.
    4 – a new combine road/rail crossing of the Fraser river, replacing the badly aging Patullo Bridge and the decrepit Fraser river Rail Bridge.

    A Broadway subway is not a Vancouver or Surrey thing at all, it is a regional transit thing, either we build an affordable transit network using LRT or cave in to Vancouver city politicians who want to build a political monument.

    1. So I’m just going to go on a whim here and point out that the point “Subways do not attract customers as widely spaced stations and hard to get to stations make subways rather user unfriendly.” is not fact but is largely opinionated. What trips are attracted (or not) depends entirely on what trips are made, and what demand is there for what trips… which varies unpredictably. If you need to commute over a long distance quickly, then widely spaced stations is great for attracting riders.

      I could point out more but I’ll just stop here…. debunking DMJ (who, in my opinion, is ruining his own initiative with his inaccuracy) is not really worth my time anymore, as I’ve done more than enough on my website.

      1. Since when Daryl, do they teach urban transit in high school? Instead of trying to insult me, who advises you on transit matters? Do you have contacts at Siemens? ABB? Leewood projects of the UK? Obviously not. The fact is, those supporting Skytrain deliberately have ignored the truth

        No? Your SkyTrain bunkum is laughable and like everyone else supporting SkyTrain, you fail to indicate why no one buys the proprietary light-metro? Afraid to admit that SkyTrain made it obsolete? Afraid to admit that only 7 SkyTrains have been built 35 years and not one was ever allowed to compete against LRT.

        Subways are not a transit panacea and tend to be a finical time-bomb and if you do not have the ridership to sustain them, they tend to blow-up in the taxpayer’s face in about 40 years. Subways are very expensive to maintain and operate and should only be built if traffic flows exceed 15,000 to 20,000 pphpd on a transit route.

        If you have read any books on the subject, you would have found that that the German cities that took there transit underground, saw a fall in transit usage. When transit became inconvenient to use, transit customers opted for the car.

        Today, those very same cities, who opted to build with subways are now faces with massive refurbishment bills, that are crippling the rest of the transit system, those cities that resisted the call for subways construction are far better off.

        I find it a strange dichotomy that those advocating for SkyTrain and subways have ignored the fact the SkyTrain was conceived to mitigate the high cost of subway construction. Again, those very same people in Chilliwack who are to be denied a rather cheap rail connection to Vancouver, will be forced to pay for another politically prestigious subway on a route that nowhere has the ridership to demand such an investment.


        Have a look Nick, the old interurban line goes through some highly populated areas and also service several major transit destinations.

        The RftV/Leewood scheme is to give a seamless journey from Chilliwack/Abbotsford/Langley/ Cloverdale/ Central Surrey to Vancouver, it is not trying to be all things to all people but to target a market that do not use transit at all.

        Chilliwack to Scott Road in 90 minutes competitive with buses which would have an equal number of stops.

        1. You display excellent knowledge on LRT system and where its benefits are prevalent, but I find that you are lacking in knowledge of how SkyTrain works and are in no position to attack our system based on how only 7 systems of the rolling stock by Bombardier and etc. have been built.

          SkyTrain is based on two commonly used, non-proprietary technologies that most people think are unique to the line: automatic train operation (ATO) and linear induction motor.

          The former is becoming a worldwide standard in all types of rapid transit installations for the proven benefits of higher headways and lower operations costs. Drivers no longer need to complement station and roaming attendants, and this can make a big difference on systems where paying for a driver is part of what creates large operating costs. Even the world’s oldest systems like the New York Subway are pursuing it as a new technology.

          The latter is less common due to climate restrictions, but not uncommon. There have been several new linear induction motor rapid transit installations in the past 25 years since Vancouver pioneered the technology. Large-scale installations include subway lines in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan, other cities like Kobe and Fukuoka, and the Guangzhou Metro. Another upcoming one in Sendai, Japan is opening in 2015. These have been built underground or in climates not seeing regular snow where linear induction motors are acceptable for reliable use.

          The only proprietary things about the current system in place in Vancouver are the system of articulated bogeys. While unique to the rolling stock, the entire system does not require these, and Bombardier has specified in internal marketing documents that there were competitors in its ART rolling stock bids for Kuala Lumpur.

          All in all, splitting the former and latter, more than 50 such systems have been built around the world (not counting small people movers at airports, etc – or systems being upgraded to use ATO) – and that’s in recent history, in a period where the technology has only just been introduced. It’s not a shabby number.

          If this does not take care of your rather unjustified claims, then the fact that you have been advocating for 30 years and few officials are listening to you should. Our officials do not lack knowledge; if they had any reason to find you credible then I’m sure they would be listening to you.

    2. Your ‘regional transit thing’ goes through all of the UNpopulated areas of Langley, save Langley City itself. The Interurban doesn’t go anywhere near Walnut Grove, Fort Langley, Brookswood or Aldergrove. It also completely misses Clearbrook, only going straight through downtown Abbotsford. Even in Surrey, only the Nordel/Kennedy area and Newton are really covered; otherwise the line is mostly in industrial or rural lands.

      It would be wonderful for people in Chilliwack who could access it with ease. It would be pretty good for people in Abbotsford. But…most of Langley and Surrey would have no use for it because it goes nowhere near us! Sure it’s useful for trips to Cloverdale or maybe Newton (-maybe- — the 364 is probably faster being a straight shot down 64th), or out to Abbotsford…but for getting into Surrey Centre or Vancouver, it would be worse than useless. The circuituous route alone means the 502 is likely a faster option.

      1. The multi-stop 502 wouldn’t outperform the interurban as long as trains are allowed to make do at higher speeds with few stops. It is notable, however, that a highway bus would achieve similar results as the interurban line due to a capability of doing the same speeds and a direct route. You do make a great point about the fact that the line goes through so few places; a more flexible-routing highway 1 rapid bus extension past Walnut Grove could service major Abbotsford transfer terminals or just redirect onto local streets once there (or same with Chilliwack).

        While the proposal by RfTV costs $600 million or so taxpayer dollars, the buses that could be running between Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley will cost so much less, could cover far more ground and more direct connections, and are proposed to run at every 10 minutes (twice as frequent as RfTV’s proposed interurban line) between Abbotsford and points west on Highway 1.

  5. just a general comment here:

    it feels like the comments are getting a little testy and personal in the fight between different modes of transit into the valley.

    i get that there are differences of opinion/fact/economics/analysis, but beyond getting into a real judean people’s front vs. people’s front of judea sectarian feud, it might be worth letting up on the personal shots and focusing more on what appears to be the greater issue: pushing for better effective transit options for the valley that would make more of a difference [defined by criteria that are still under discussion] than a subway to ubc. surely, that’s the common ground?

    and then amidst all this we can have a reasonable discussion about what transit options best fit from the river eastward. the more this becomes a pfj vs. jpf, the more vancouver laughs all the way to their new subway in the translink arena of zero sum political power games..

    1. There should really be no competition between, say, me (a Surrey LRT oppositionist) and RfTV because we’re advocating for two totally different things for two totally different and legitimate reasons.

      The whole RfTV doesn’t really have their heads right in advertising for their situation. The heads are in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, neither communities of which are serviced by TransLink services. There seems to be little if any RfTV reach out towards the actual transit provider in these areas and the one responsible for any expansions, which is BC Transit. In addition, BC transit has created an excellent central fraser valley regional bus link plan that RfTV is simply not challenging in favour of their proposal.

      The Leewood business case presents a legitimate case for an interurban rail service. Where RfTV fails is comparing it with BC Transit’s already proposed options, and is going nowhere by doing as it currently is of resorting to allowing LRTA lobbyists with intentions of attacking TransLink (who have little to no bearing on this issue whatsoever) onto its website blog.

Leave a Reply